October 20, 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:00 pm UTC-7
October 5, 2020 @ 10:30 pm
The young trumpeter Josh Lawrence is making quite a splash on the contemporary scene as a player and composer. “Contrast” is his second Posi-Tone album within 12 months to feature his Color Theory ensemble. What a fine band! The rhythm section includes the Curtis Brothers, Zaccai (keyboards) and Luques (bass) plus Anwar Marshall (drums) while the front line has Lawrence paired with alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis (no relation to the Brothers). Orrin Evans joins the band on piano for several tracks as does trombonist David Gibson.
The album has two distinct sections. The first four tracks have the bop and hard bop feel of Lawrence’s 2017 “Color Theory“, shorter tunes with melodic heads and fine solos (“Dominant Curve” is a standout cut with its Charlie Parker-type melody and attack). The program changes on track #5, the powerful “In The Black Square.” Now, the influence is McCoy Tyner and the music he began to make in the early 1970s. The shifting rhythms (Marshall is on fire here), the pounding piano chords, and the leader’s fiery solo.
The next song, “Gray“, is a handsome piece fueled by the richly melodic lines of Luques Curtis, the active drums and cymbals, and the adventurous work of Lawrence and Caleb Curtis. It opens in a fiery tone with the front line dancing through the melody and then the alto sax rides atop the rhythm section. Following that, the song slows down, with quiet sax and muted trumpet – Lawrence builds a fascinating solo, rolling his lines around the drums and bass then moving “out” near the end before the sax returns. Drums and bass reintroduce the opening section, the front line repeat the original melody and the piece romps to its close. There’s a touch of electronics on the muted trumpet opening of “Brown“, with Lawrence and Caleb Curtis exploring a fine melody. The power is kicked up a notch on “Agent Orange”, the rubato opening featuring trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. Gibson takes the first pass through the melody pushed forward by Zaccai Curtis’s powerful piano chords. Note the slight change as the bass and drums fall in to a driving rhythm for the sax solo. Lawrence has a powerful interaction with the pianist, giving the piece the feel of the classic Miles Davis Quintet music of the mid-1960s. The music fades with the pianist playing “My Country, Tis of Thee” over quiet cymbal touches.
Orrin Evans on acoustic piano and Zaccai Curtis on Rhodes ride a funky beat at the onset of “Blues On The Bridge.” The opening is reminiscent of Julius Hemphill’s “The Hard Blues” but, when the keyboards kick in, the song moves into Cannonball Adderley style rhythm ‘n’ blues. The groove opens up for the trumpet solo gets back to its original “greasiness” for Evans’s playful solo.
The program closes with a soft version of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April“, just muted trumpet and piano (Evans again), a lovely tribute to the artist. The version does not stray far from the original ballad, the piano giving the song more weight than Prince’s acoustic guitar and trembling voice.
“Contrast” continues Josh Lawrence‘s fascination with colors and illustrates how the trumpeter is expanding his palette. He is growing as an artist on so many levels, not just as an excellent soloist but as a composer and bandleader. Grab ahold of this album and get into its grooves – the music is very alive and moving!
If you follow trombonist David Gibson on Facebook, or are FB “friends” with him, you’re likely familiar with some of his posts that cover a whole host of topics, from the power of music, to what it means to be a professional, how to act on a gig, how to communicate with people you might not agree with, etc. In these posts he is always positive, insightful, and generally optimistic.
Now I tend to be pretty cynical and dark, and sometimes when I see one of his posts like this, especially if it’s early in the morning, I might let my “not only is the glass half empty, the glass is cracked” outlook get the best of me and start to write it off. But then I invariably find the grown-up part of my brain saying to me “dude, get over yourself, he’s right.” And then I think about what he said for a bit and move on with my day, often having found what he’s said to have some kind of resonance or significance with things I often think about or experience.
I cannot say I know Gibson, I’ve never seen him play, and I only know his music from his records. But based on my limited interaction with him online and knowing his music, I can say that the world needs more musicians, and people, like him. This is clearly evident on his newest album on Posi-tone: Inner Agent. It, along with his previous albums, exudes all the qualities that I’ve come to respect about him. It’s honest, positive, straightforward, swinging, hip (I mean just look at his fashion sense—I’m super envious of his suit collection), and there’s no b.s. or posturing. And it’s clear from the music that his bandmates—trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, pianist Theo Hill, bassist Alexander Claffy, and drummer Kush Abadey—appreciate and share these qualities as well. Simply put, Inner Agent is one of the finest straight ahead albums of the year and is as good as contemporary hard bop gets.
The album charges right out of the gate with the uptempo title track. Aside from Gibson and Hendrix’s burning solos, one of the most impressive aspects of the performance is the hookup between Hill and Abadey, who play off each behind the solos, pushing the soloists forward while filling gaps with jabs, fills, and well-placed accents. Hearing Gibson borrow a figure from one of Hill’s comped lines during his solo shows that these guys are locked in. And it would be a mistake to overlook Claffy, whose unwavering walking bass holds everything together. “I Wish I Knew” is so good, so soulful, and so full of optimism that it’s just about enough to restore my faith in humanity. The tune’s melody and easy swing could be straight out of a classic 50s or 60s Blue Note album. Gibson’s solo exudes a declarative joyfulness, Hendrix turns the heat up a notch with a few bluesy choruses, while Hill takes a direct and unadorned approach, using a series of single note lines. The quintet expands to a septet on “The Scythe” with the addition of tenor saxophonist Doug Webb and alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis. The four-horn front line adds power to Gibson’s tune, which features an angular bridge that ratchets up the tension. Webb wastes no time working up a lather, while Curtis and Gibson take a more measured approach. The tune is so well-suited for an open-ended blowing session I wish it had been twice as long to give the soloists more time to stretch out. “Gravy” is a medium, sly funk—it’s as if the band is in on a big secret, but we’re not quite hip enough to know what’s up.
Like his last album entitled Boom!, Inner Agent closes with a cover of a pop tune. Whereas the former ended with Eric Clapton’s “Change the World,” he finishes the latter album off with George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” I admit that when I first saw that each of those were on the albums my inner cynic took hold and almost cringed. But then I thought “wait, ok, change the world, ok, things are pretty messed up, the world could use some changing.” And with “Here Comes the Sun”: “oh man, I’ve heard some bad Beatles covers, I hope this isn’t lame.” [*wrong, hits reset button*] “wait, this is hip, ok, ‘here comes the sun…it’s alright,’ we could use some sun and optimism and positivity.”
Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m finishing this review on the eve of the 2016 presidential election, which in all its ugliness, drama, immaturity, and divisiveness has made it painstakingly clear that for a great number of Americans, cynicism and exploiting people’s fears and base emotions remain effective tools for achieving one’s goals, whether they be profit, ratings, clicks, fame, or power. By listening to Inner Agent and following him online, David Gibson reminds me that music has the power to uplift and to share positive energy with all who encounter it, thereby helping to shed our cynicism. If only we’d listen.
I have to begin this review by complimenting Positone Records. Every CD this company has sent to me reflects a high quality of jazz artists. It’s been a joy listening to each and every one of them. David Gibson is no exception to this course of excellence. “Inner Agent”, the title tune, is an original composition by Gibson and sets the mood for this entire project. It’s Straight Ahead, no nonsense jazz, just the way this reviewer likes it. Using a quartet of horns to thicken the musical brew, Gibson graciously shares his stage with a group of seasoned musicians. He lets each one solo and sparkle like jazzy jewels. Hendrix is compelling on trumpet, drawing the listener in with big bold tones and dynamic technique. Doug Webb always brings tenor madness to the studio, playing from the heart and Caleb Curtis on alto is a saxophone force to be enjoyed and celebrated. This is my first time hearing Theo Hill on piano and he’s impressive, innovative and skilled, knowing just how to comp and support the artist, then stretching out with solos that make you pay attention. Abadey on drums is powerful and relentless, giving this band the push and rhythmic inspiration they need to spiral up and over his percussive chops. However, it is Gibson’s trombone voice that bathes in the glow of a singular spotlight. They say that trombone is the closest instrument to human vocals and Gibson sings with emotional dexterity and polished technique. He’s an accomplished composer as well as a musician and offers four original tunes on this project. One is “The Scythe”, a high-powered, Be Bop tune that burns with fiery energy with Gibson’s solo floating solidly atop the rhythm section. You can hear Abadey’s drums throughout, egging the band on like a matador’s cape in front of an angry bull. I love the mix on this recording. Bassist, Alexander Claffy, has written “AJ”, a moderate tempo ballad that allows Gibson to set the melodic theme along with his horn section, sometimes harmonically but mostly in unison. If I were to have any criticism, it would be that Gibson’s improvisational solos are way too short. Gibson tackles two compositions by my Detroit home-boy, trombonist Curtis Fuller; “The Court” and “Sweetness”, where he shows admirable technique and self-expression. This is an album of music to be treasured in any collection. Perhaps Curtis Fuller said it best when he gave Gibson this dynamic compliment:
“Out of all the young players I hear in the music today, David is one of very few who speaks the language of jazz.”
The seamless, elastic world of music must surely be engaging to body and soul as if it were charting sonic events in the hot and heady days of a seemingly parallel universe. The music of a clutch of artists playing music intoxicated with the gaiety and passion for life in chance encounters and never-ending emotional thrills. These four discs lay out the sustaining power of trombone and saxophone, bass and drums with elegance and ease. In ensemble and solo sojourns the musicians on each of the discs create lines that flow, charm and interact in an entirely natural and unaffected manner. Every one of these Posi-Tone releases fulfils the promise to entertain and keep listeners in a constant of wonder.
David Gibson is a serious ‘student’ of his chosen instrument: the trombone. Not only does his virtuosity enable the songs on Inner Agent to spin out and display passages with dazzling facility but the emotional depth of his playing enables him to ‘sing’ with uncanny authority. More than anything, however, this recording follows in the great tradition of the trombone, paying luminous homage to the great Curtis Fuller with two tunes – ‘The Court’ and ‘Sweetness’. Gibson also takes his reverential manner many steps further with beguiling compositions of his own. In the magnificent workings of ‘The Scythe’, for instance, his music and his playing combines accuracy and clarity with a warm ambience and almost tangible texture. The other players in the ensemble also possess a remarkable aptitude for agility in their loping, leaping and mutable soli. Together, Gibson and his cohort, especially trumpeter Freddie Hendrix – whose musical character is cast as a doppelgänger for the trombonist’s own – have succeeded in leaving us with a performance of exceptional beauty.
Doug Webb’s most emotional call to look on the Bright Side is a most appropriate offering in these ‘times of trouble’. In this respect, Julie Styne’s feature, ‘Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry’ becomes the disc’s clarion call to listeners in search of peace. But let it be suggested that the saxophonist’s disc in question is an endless stream of moping about current events and an apocalyptic sermon about the state of the art, it has to be said that Webb is not one to weep and moan about it. Rather he is more apt to press on and serve up such delicacies as ‘Steak Sauce’ and ‘Funky Medina’. Making an ebullient record takes not only a sense of fun, but elegant simplicity, given to joyous celebration of all things musical. It also shows Webb to possess a more theatrically developed virtuosity necessary for a performance that highlights his compelling works. More rewarding on the ensemble front, both structurally and emotionally is Webb’s prominent interaction with musical partners who articulate the loose-limbed elegance of the music with impressive timbral variety.
Apart from the fact that Duke Ellington did not get credit for ‘Angelica’ in bassist Peter Brendler’s Message In Motion everything else about the album suggests the impulse to adorn musical lines with an intricacy that goes well beyond craftsmanship. It is matter of imbuing musical design with depth of thought and emotion melded in with clarity and reason. Peter Brendler’s work has shown this in spades throughout his illustrious career as a first-call bassist as well as a composer. His work with pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Barry Altschul is the stuff that legends are made of. In only his second album as leader, Brendler not only commands the respect of musical luminaries such as saxophonist Rich Perry and guitar alchemist Ben Monder, but also trumpeter Peter Evans and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. ‘Stunts And Twists’ helps to unveil Brendler’s compositional skills, suggesting a wonderful sense of adventure about his narratives. His introduction to Elliott Smith’s ‘Easy Way Out’ is quite breathtaking as is Ben Monder’s playing that follows immediately after, as it makes way for Brendler to re-enter with melodic lines of his own. Alice Coltrane’s ‘Ptah The El Daoud’ features an insane, dysfunctional and brilliant solo by Peter Evans, who unleashes his genius once again on ‘Very Light And Very Sweet. A truly memorable album.
If it were time to draw up a list of the finest performances of 2016, then Steve Fidyk’s Allied Forces would feature very prominently on it. For one thing, this is not the usual organ/guitar/drum recording but an intelligent spinoff that features an infinitely larger and fascinating tonal colour palette with the addition of an alto and a tenor saxophone. The recording also shows the drummer/leader, Fidyk to not only possess formidable artistic gifts as a percussion colourist, but also a drummer of immense melodic capability. Fidyk’s musicianship also shows to be a bold instrumentalist and gifted writer. These complementary aspects paint a portrait of a musician with the facility to transform and illuminate in a myriad styles. It helps to have a sensibility rooted in, arguably, the last, and most significant idiom in Jazz – bebop. The group’s performance of Charlie Parker’s ingenious ‘Moose The Mooche’ and Thelonious Monk’s iconic ‘Evidence’ gets behind the irrepressible rhythmic dynamic of the music that Parker and Monk helped to create with Kenny Clarke and Dizzy Gillespie. But Fidyk is also a chameleonic musician. Consider the manner in which he whips up a funky storm on ‘Doin’ The Shake’. And the, of course, there’s the rousing rendition of Frank Foster’s ‘Shiny Stockings’ a marvellous bookend to ‘Evidence’, which gets things started. An album to die for.
Raul da Gama – JazzdaGama
Trombonist David Gibson has created a fine modern mainstream jazz album with his fourth Posi-Tone release. Performing alongside him are Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Theo Hill on piano, Alexander Claffy on bass, Kush Abadey on drums. Saxophonists Doug Webb and Caleb Curtis guest on a couple of tracks as well. The title track “Inner Agent” opens the album in an up-tempo fashion with bright sounding piano and swinging cymbal play supporting punchy and brash horn riffs. There is an excellent section for the piano, bass and drums unit that swings very hard. “Axe Grinder” sets a funky groove with the horns harmonizing and then breaking free for solo sections, including some stratospheric trumpet. Gibson takes a rapid and smoothly executed trombone solo over rippling piano and subtle bass and drums. There is a fast and exciting sendoff to “The Sythe” with ripe saxophone soloing over muscular playing from the rhythm section, and Abadey’s drums driving the music hard. Gibson gets another nice featured spot, ramping the tempo down just a hair and developing a confident and well-articulated solo. “The Court” has a bouncy and interesting foundation from the piano, bass and drums, while strutting horns come out together and then diverge in short statements before returning to complete this pithy and concise tune. There is a medium tempo sensibility to “Gravy” with swaggering horns sounding good over strong rhythm and percussively comped piano. Gibson’s trombone glides through the rhythm with aplomb demonstrating an appealing tone to his music. The album is completed with a tasteful and restrained version of The Beatles “Here Comes the Sun.” The horns are very subtle and it isn’t until the piano references the melody that the penny drops and you hear what is happening. This performance is emblematic of the entire album, because it is music that is tasteful and thoughtful and should be well received by mainstream jazz fans.
Tim Niland – Music and More blog
When trombonist David Gibson put out “Boom” last year, one listen and you knew this guy likes working with no net. Told me the feeling was exhilarating to make music this way. It’s also quite fulfilling to listen to and see live, something I made sure happened with David Gibson.
With “Inner Agent”, Gibson’s upcoming release from Posi-tone Records, the trombonist says, “This recording is a natural continuation of what we began with “Boom”. There are more risks taken and more trust present in the performances.”
Returning are pianist Theo Hill, bassist Alexander Claffey and drummer Kush Abadey. We hear Freddie Hendrix this time on trumpet, and the additional artistry of tenor saxophonist Doug Webb and Caleb Curtis on alto sax.
With a backstory that includes time spent on the bandstands of Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Jon Faddis and James Moody, Gibson and group can go gorgeous, then slide into something fun & funky, or big, bad and bold.
The leader talked selection of a tune like Dr. Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew” by explaining, “I first heard this song sung by Nina Simone in the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? In the documentary she is asked what freedom was to her. She responded, “Freedom is… NO FEAR.”
The group’s sanctified feel is full of that trust that fills this entire record.
As you might expect, there are a couple of nods to trombone master Curtis Fuller with “The Court”, which gives all a chance to get out on the open road, and “Sweetness”, with the warmth of the group’s swing and sway given a nice feature.
George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun” is a grand closer for the nine tunes on David Gibson’s “Inner Agent”. The release is a compelling “come together” of some pretty serious talent, who trust each other well enough for us to have a great time listening.
– Gary Walker, Morning Jazz – WBGO WBGO radar
This trombone man almost has enough wind in him to sound like a big band by himself. A high octane set with a mystical bent, Gibson smokes his way through this set delivering the kind of high energy blowing that is sure to put him on your list of those to keep an ear out for. Obviously playing from the gut and the heart, this music connects and opens your mind as well as your ears. Solid stuff from a cat that’s here to stay.
Midwest Record – Midwestrecord.com